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Wednesday, December 21, 2011

Movies: Atlas Shrugged and So Did I

Atlas Shrugged: Part I  2011  97 minutes    I had never read anything of Ayn Rand’s, but I had read some commentary on her work, enough to put me off.  After seeing the film I checked out the book from the library.  A quick scan of the Table of Contents and the Introduction indicates that the film seems to follow the book, although there is some updating of technology since the 1957 publication date.   There’s no way I’m going to read the 338 pages of Part I, much less the 1168 pages of the whole thing, so I can only comment on what’s in the movie.  The first word that comes to mind is “ridiculous.”  The heroine, Dagny Taggart played by Taylor Schilling, is nice to look at and presents herself as a first rate executive trying to save her company.  She’s tough with the union, but that’s what you would expect.  It’s the world in which she operates that is ridiculous.  The theme is that the government is trying to control the private sector totally and to redistribute equally any wealth that it might create.  The characters she creates and the things they say are so far off the mark that they seem childish.  If she had been trying to write something like “1984,” she might have created the society and economy in Atlas Shrugged, but she is perfectly clear that she is commenting on our world.  She calls her personal philosophy “objectivism.”  I have coined a more descriptive word: “selfishism.”  It’s only hinted at in Part I, but the major theme of the novel is that the lousy environment for business created by pernicious government policy has caused the really creative industrialist to quit and go off to a haven provided by someone named John Galt.  It sounds a lot like the Republican mantra that environmental regulation and tax increases on the rich will destroy job creation.  Alan Greenspan was one of Rand’s admirers or maybe a follower.  What were we thinking when we let him look after our money for so many years as Chairman of the Federal Reserve?
Don Juan DeMarco   1994  97 minutes    How can you go wrong with Marlon Brando, even the fat one, and Johnny Depp, who has played a wider range of roles than any other actor I can think of.   This time Depp plays a young New Yorker who fantasizes that that he is the legendary lover Don Juan DeMarco and Brando is the shrink who tries to deal with him in a mental hospital after Depp threatens to jump off a building.  My reading is that Depp was never in doubt about who he really was, but stayed in his role because life was better that way.  Brando figures this out, and it revitalizes his life too and his relationship with his wife, played by Faye Dunaway.
 Lost in La Mancha   2002  89 minutes   This is a documentary about Terry Gilliam’s failed attempts to do a Don Quixote movie, with some interesting changes in the plot – see Wiki.  Besides Johnny Depp he has Jean Rocheforte, a French actor who is a perfect image of Quixote but unfortunately has a prostate problem that holds up production.  It looks to me like Gilliam has some great ideas but needs a hardnosed producer to keep things on track.  Better to spend your time on something else.
Larry Crowne  2011  99 minutes    Tom Hanks is a high school graduate who was a mess cook in the service and since then has worked for a big box chain for about 20 years.  He gets laid off, because he didn’t go to college and there’s no way for him to move up.  Apparently it’s not just military and foreign service officers who have to deal with “up or out.”  He enrolls in the community college, takes a job as a short order chef and takes a class from a very crabby teacher, Julia Roberts.  The rest is predictable, charming and fun.  Hanks looks kind of old these days but is still irresistible.
 Harry Potter and the Deathly Hallows: Part II   2011  130 minutes    It’s about what you would expect.  It seems to be a trend in movies recently to shoot long dark scenes where you can hardly see what’s going on.  If you saw Part I, you don’t need to see Part II.  Harry is part Voldemort and that part has to die and does and so does Voldemort, after Neville cuts the head off Nagini, the snake and last remaining horcrux.  Snape was actually a good guy, a double agent for Dumbledore.  Ah, gee, now I’ve ruined the surprise.
Miracle at Oxford   1996   114 minutes   Oxford loses to Cambridge in the annual 4.5 mile 8 man crew rowing contest on the Thames.  It’s “try again next year” and they win using their old tried and true methods after dumping the egotistical and know it all American members of the crew.  The in and outs of the sport itself and also of the Oxford rowing club are interesting.
The Tempest   2010  110 minutes   They had to change Prospero to Prospera for Helen Mirren to play the part, and she is fantastic, of course.  I never saw this on the stage, but I think that the only real difference is that Prospera’s rage at being deposed as Duke of Milan is that much greater because she is a woman and more invested in her daughter and she was doing a great job of being Duke.  Felicity Jones is too sweet for words.  A review I read didn’t like the singer Reeve Carney as Ferdinand.  It was his first acting job, and I thought he did fine.  In the bonus features Russell Brand who plays Trinculo does a comic riff that goes on and on and on.  The star of the show is director Julie Taymor, who is beautiful, imaginative and knows her craft.
The Tree of Life   2011  139 minutes    Is this a joke or just ridiculous?  Or is it a serious work of art that taxes the viewer and forces him or her to join with the director in the creation of a commentary on life in America in the 1950s.  There are a couple of unconnected scenes in the beginning; nothing is explained.  Then there’s what seems like 30 minutes of special effects of the big bang and the creation of the universe and some raptors running around in a stream and then you’re dumped off at Brad Pitt’s house in a small, company town, where he has one wife and three preteen boys and some kind of supervisory position at the plant.  He tries to be a good dad and is really lousy at it, goes away for a while, boys run wild, he comes back, the plant closes and they have to move and then you’re on a beach and maybe this is heaven.  The family members and hundreds of other people are wandering aimlessly on the beach and occasionally notice each other and hug.  Go figure.  The music is pleasant and some of the photography is quite beautiful, but doesn’t contribute to or detract from whatever narrative there is.  Life is short; see something else.

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